By Candace McDuffie
The very first image in The Weeknd’s cinematic music video for “Blinding Lights” — one of the lead singles from his forthcoming new album, After Hours — is a harrowing one: We see the singer laughing cryptically with a mouth spewing blood. It’s the result of a brutal assault following a chaotic night in Las Vegas that he practically celebrates and is symbolic of his latest creative phase. It’s also a far cry from when the singer, born Abel Tesfaye, was cloaked in anonymity back in 2011, just as he was starting out on his musical journey.
That year, an appearance on Drake’s Take Care along with the release of three mixtapes (House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence) made the world enamored with the crooner whose vocals were sumptuous and hypnotizing, whose lyricism was tawdry and formidable. The Weeknd’s debut 2013 album, Kiss Land, finally put a proper face on a persona cloaked in obscurity, one that became a supernova pop star just a few years later.
Despite the accolades, the fame and the fortune, The Weeknd has used his After Hours era to lean into the most exaggerated and reckless version of himself yet (his cameo in the film Uncut Gems last year — where, as himself, he fights Adam Sandler’s character — is proof of this). His new After Hours persona is mesmerizing, decadent, and cartoonish — the perfect way to recapture the mystery that kicked off his career. It’s in the “Blinding Lights” video, his maniacal After Hours short film, and even in his recent late-night performances. But his journey to this point has been tracked through his visual iconography all along. Below, ahead of After Hours dropping on Friday (March 20), we track that evolution.